A campaign to legalize psilocybin mushrooms for medical use in Oregon is facing pushback from activists over an amended ballot measure’s omission of earlier provisions that would have reduced criminal penalties associated with the psychedelic fungus.
The Oregon Psilocybin Society (OPS) originally filed a proposed initiative that called for reducing penalties for possession, cultivation and delivery of psilocybin for adults in addition to establishing a therapeutic model for the substance’s legal use in a medically supervised environment. But after hearing from political advisors and funders, the group said it decided to scrap the non-medical reform aspect.
Part of the rationale was that OPS heard that the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) is planning to introduce more sweeping drug decriminalization measures in several states including Oregon.
“We support their powerful vision of addressing drug use through a health approach instead of treating it as a criminal problem,” OPS said in an email blast describing the rationale for the revisions. “So, we made up our minds. Rather than duplicate the same effort as DPA, we would produce a new and improved bill to legalize psilocybin assisted therapy and drop the decriminalization aspect.”
But that decision has nonetheless drawn criticism from other psychedelics activists.
Shortly after the state attorney general proposed a draft ballot title for the newly revised measure, which is required after organizers collect a certain number of signatures, Decriminalize Nature Portland (DNP) and a political action committee called the Mushroom PAC released a statement condemning OPS’s changes.
The groups said in an email newsletter and in comments submitted to the attorney general that OPS “abandoned their original intentions to pass statewide decriminalization in addition to a statewide therapy model” and added a section that “explicitly criminalizes non-therapeutic use” of psilocybin,” which they characterized as a “flip-flop in direction.”
“In changing course, they have not only betrayed the people who gave money to their group based on a lie of decriminalization, but they have abandoned the thousands of Oregonians who will not be able to afford access to therapeutic-only psychedelic medicine,” DNP and the Mushroom PAC wrote.
The groups alleged that OPS founders “sold out their ideals in order to get ahead” by revising their initiative to create an automatic, two-year placement on a compensated advisory board and also criminalizing outdoor personal cultivation. They questioned whether the latter provision was added because, they wrote, one of OPS’s $1,000+ donors “owns patents on indoor growing equipment.”
“There are three key reasons why these changes deserve to be critiqued: the bill is now worse for people of color, it is worse for the poor, and it is worse for civil liberty and personal freedom,” the groups alleged.
Because OPS dropped the criminal penalty reform provisions and specified there would be consequences for unsanctioned cultivation and use, DNP and Mushroom PAC argued that people of color would be disproportionately targeted for enforcement, as occurs for a multitude of crimes.
“And finally, the bill is now worse for every single Oregonian from the standpoint of civil liberties and cognitive liberty. It is no longer a combined decriminalization/therapy effort that would have created the freedom for each free-thinking person to decide how to pursue this natural medicine in relation to their health—it is now a therapy-only effort that restricts decisions about freedom to the medical system, the Oregon Health Authority, and board representatives.”
Two medical professionals expressed similar reservations via a public comment period after the attorney general proposed the draft ballot title.
“I no longer support the current initiative in its form as it has veered a significant distance from its original orientation,” psychologist Jeff Tarrant wrote. “The vast majority of people supporting the initiative, supported it in its original version.”
“Many of those people are not even aware that it has been altered significantly. I am not alone in my disappointment of the direction this has taken,” he said. “Again, it is my firm belief that many/most of the people originally supporting this initiative did so with the understanding that this would be supporting decriminalization.”
OPS released a campaign update to supporters the day after DNP and Mushroom PAC published their criticism. The group’s statement sought to “clarify where we are, and how we got here” and offered an explanation about the thinking behind removing decriminalization from the measure.
“We wanted to put psychedelic therapy on solid ground—surrounded by safety, best practices, and ethical standards, yet decidedly outside of the pharma-driven medical system,” OPS founders Tom and Sheri Eckert wrote. “And we wanted to reduce penalties for possession of usable amounts of psilocybin.”
But as the campaign evolved, they were approved by the firm Emerge Law Group as well as executives from Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps who raised concerns about the initiative language and pledged to providing funding to OPS if certain changes were made.
“Their points were valid and important, perhaps vital for long term success. But the thought of revising the language was hard to digest. It would mean starting the process over, including ballot titling and signature gathering. We were resistant.”
“With the clock ticking, and a potential rewrite in the works, we conveyed that we’d need some assurances of financial support to help knock out the required 112,200 valid petition signatures on time. David provided those assurances,” OPS wrote, referring to the Dr. Bronner’s CEO and activist David Bronner.
OPS said it also consulted with Psychedelic Science Funders Collaborative Executive Director Graham Boyd, who has worked on political strategy and helped steer funding from the late Progressive insurance chairman Peter Lewis to marijuana reform efforts as well as previously serving as director of the ACLU’s Drug Law Reform Project.
Between feedback from those advisors and hearing that DPA would be working to get broader decriminalization approved in Oregon, the revised measure emerged. OPS emphasized that tweaks were made to ensure that “the new language makes it impossible for pharma and big corporations to overrun this emerging space.”
“We think that’s worth repeating over and over, because disinformation is so rampant right now, often perpetuated by otherwise psychedelic friendly folks,” the group wrote. “We get it—social media banter is confusing, often divorced from reality… and, perhaps not surprisingly, there is a dedicated disinformation campaign being waged against us.”
“But let’s be very clear about this. The way we talk about this initiative has real implications for the future of mental healthcare. This is not a game. The current system is broken, and real lives are at stake. If you carelessly perpetuate disinformation about the Oregon campaign, you are, wittingly or not, doing the work of those who would deny psilocybin assisted therapy to those who are suffering and are desperately in need of help.”
The group listed other changes that were made following consultation with advisors.
[O]ver the course of a couple months, we drafted the most complete and dialed-in revision imaginable to legalize psilocybin therapy – a unique, world-class document. Much of the content reflects the earlier version, only cleaner, including:
—A framework for accessing psilocybin services
—Safety, practice, and ethical standards
—Services open to anyone who is not medically contraindicated
—An affordable, community-based framework outside the medical / pharma system
—Trained and competent facilitators (without requiring previous credentialing)
—Use of organic materials (mushrooms), not just synthetic psilocybin
Other inclusions were either new or augmented the previous provisions, while addressing a variety of concerns from the community. Some new highlights include:
—A strengthened Advisory Board, with directives to work with state and federal officials to create an environment of cooperation
—An extended development period so that the OHA can successfully roll out the program
—Prohibition of cannabis-style branding and marketing of psilocybin products
—Iron-clad protections against big corporate influences, including limiting business entities to a single production facility of limited size, or maximum five service centers (no big chains)
These revisions make the measure “vastly stronger,” OPS argued, because it “better protects the original spirit of the initiative.”
Paul Stamets, a mycologist well-known in the psychedelics community for his advocacy for the use of fungi in medicine, called the new initiative a “massive improvement,” OPS said.
“The truth is, this campaign is philosophically sound and very much on track, with firepower behind it… and for good reason,” they wrote, adding that OPS plans to hire management and other “key positions” as it seeks out a consulting firm to aid in signature gathering.
OPS also sought changes to the attorney general’s draft ballot language, urging the official to revise the title so that there are tight restrictions and to ensure that psilocybin would only be able to be consumed in a licensed facility.
While the debate over the revised language could pose problems for the Oregon campaign as it seeks to qualify and then pass their measure, it also reflects the growing enthusiasm and organization of the psilocybin decriminalization movement, which has scored historic victories in Denver and Oakland so far this year and has plans to push a statewide decriminalization measure in California in 2020.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia/Workman.
White House Completes Review Of CBD Guidance From FDA
The White House recently completed its review of pending Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guidance on marijuana and CBD research—though it remains to be seen whether the draft document will ultimately be released to the public.
FDA submitted its proposed plan—titled “Cannabis and Cannabis-Derived Compounds: Quality Considerations for Clinical Research”—to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) in May. Few details are known about its contents, but an FDA spokesperson previously told Marijuana Moment that it could inform the agency’s approach to developing regulations for the marketing of CBD.
OMB finished its review last week, as first reported by InsideHealthPolicy. This comes days after a spending bill for FDA was released that includes a provision providing “funding to develop a framework for regulating CBD products.”
Despite the review being finalized, however, an FDA representative told Marijuana Moment on Friday that the agency “cannot provide an update of when (or even if) this guidance will issue.”
“It will be announced via the Federal Register should it move to publication,” they said.
It’s not entirely clear why the guidance wouldn’t be published in the end, but it may take some time for FDA to implement any edits suggested by the White House over the past month, and it’s possible there are additional layers of review beyond OMB that could determine when and whether it will be finalized.
It also remains to be seen whether FDA plans to wait for this specific guidance to be finalized and for the resulting research to be completed before it gets around to issuing final rules for CBD products in general. Stakeholders have been eagerly awaiting those regulations so they can fully take advantage of the legalization of hemp and its derivatives.
Former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in May that White House policies requiring OMB to review scientific documents in the first place represent an onerous step that’s delayed the issuance of guidance.
Beyond sending the draft research plan to the White House for review, FDA is also soliciting public input about the safety and efficacy of CBD in comment period it has decided to keep open indefinitely. The agency said in an update to Congress in March that it has several specific questions it wants answered before deciding whether the cannabidiol can be lawfully marketed. That includes questions about the impact of different methods of consumption and drug interactions.
This week, FDA submitted a report to Congress on the state of the CBD marketplace, and the document outlines studies the agency has performed on the contents and quality of cannabis-derived products that it has tested over the past six years.
In the meantime, FDA is maintaining enforcement discretion when it comes to action against companies that sell CBD products regardless of the lack of regulations and has said it is currently targeting sellers that make especially outlandish or unsanctioned claims about the therapeutic value of their products.
It sent a warning letter to a CBD company owned by a former NFL player after advertisements it displayed suggested its products could treat and prevent a coronavirus infection, for example.
FDA sent a letter warning to a company about its marketing of injectable CBD products that led to a voluntary recall in May.
The agency also publicized a voluntary recall of another CBD product from a different company, notifying consumers about potentially high levels of lead in a batch of tinctures.
FDA has previously issued warnings to other CBD companies that have made unsubstantiated claims about the therapeutic potential of their products.
Photo by Kimzy Nanney.
Veterans Working In Marijuana Industry Aren’t Automatically Blocked From Home Loans, VA Says
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) recently clarified to Congress that it does not have a policy automatically barring veterans from receiving home loans solely because they work in the marijuana industry—and now a key House committee is asking the department to better communicate that to lenders and would-be borrowers.
For the past year, Rep. Katherine Clark (D-MA) and other lawmakers have been pressing VA on difficulties some veterans have faced in securing the benefit, with at least one constituent telling Clark that they were denied a home loan because of their work in the state-legal cannabis market. That prompted the congresswoman to circulate a sign-on letter and introduce an amendment to resolve the problem.
However, in a report submitted to Congress last month that was obtained by Marijuana Moment, VA said there is no policy on the books that calls for home loan denials due to employment at a cannabis business. Instead, the department clarified that conflicting state and federal laws makes it “difficult to prove the stability and reliability of cannabis-derived income,” which are key factors in determining loan eligibility.
“VA is committed to working diligently to serve our Nation’s Veterans by providing eligible Veterans with home loan guaranty benefits,” VA said. “There is nothing in VA statutes or regulations that specifically prohibits a Veteran whose income is derived from state-legalized cannabis activities from obtaining a certificate of eligibility for VA home loan benefits. However, given the disparity between Federal and State laws on cannabis, determining whether such a Veteran is able to obtain a loan has become a complex issue.”
A person’s “reliance on [marijuana-derived] income may hinder a Veteran’s ability to obtain a VA-guaranteed home loan, a result that is consistent with other federal housing programs,” the report states. “VA also notes that many lenders have established their own income thresholds and policies on overlays, which are often more stringent than VA’s requirements, to ensure that the VA-guaranteed loan will be purchased by an investor in the secondary mortgage market.”
In other words, individual lending companies may be denying home loans to veterans because the cannabis industry-derived income they would use to pay back loans isn’t necessarily stable and reliable due to the fact that federal officials could shut down their employers at any time.
If that’s the case, then it doesn’t appear it would be necessary to pass legislation targeting the narrow issue in the way lawmakers did last year. Clark’s amendment to address the problem was approved by the House as part of a defense spending bill—though leaders in the chamber agreed to scrap it after the Senate didn’t include it in its version of the legislation.
The House Appropriations Committee also approved report language last year attached to the bill that funds VA expressing concern that the department “has never publicly stated its position on this matter, hindering Veterans’ ability to fully understand and consider how employment decisions could affect future eligibility for earned benefits.”
The newly released explanation from VA is a result of that provision.
Now, for the next fiscal year, a new report attached to the latest Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies spending bill acknowledges VA’s recent policy clarification—but lawmakers are asking the department to do more.
“The Committee understands that as directed by House Report 116–63, VA has clarified that nothing in VA statutes or regulations specifically prohibits a Veteran whose income is derived from state-legalized cannabis activities from obtaining a certificate of eligibility for VA home loan benefits,” the report states. “The Committee directs the VA to improve communication with eligible lending institutions to reduce confusion among lenders and borrowers on this matter.”
Clark told Marijuana Moment that “no veteran should be denied benefits simply because they work within the legal cannabis industry.”
“This must be crystal clear in our laws and communicated directly to both borrowers and lenders,” the congresswoman said. “By including this language, we’re eliminating any doubt about the rights of our service members and protecting their ability to access what they’ve rightfully earned.”
In other veterans and cannabis news this year, the Congressional Budget Office released an analysis on a marijuana research bill for veterans and determined that it would have no fiscal impact. And a federal commission issued recommendations to promote research into the therapeutic potential of both cannabis and psychedelics such as psilocybin mushrooms and MDMA.
Read VA’s report on its home loan policy for veterans working in the marijuana industry below:
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.
Idaho Medical Marijuana Activists Ask State For Electronic Signature Gathering Option Following Court Ruling
Idaho activists have formally requested that the state allow them to collect signatures electronically for a medical cannabis legalization initiative following a series of federal court rulings on the issue in a case filed by a separate campaign.
While the signature submission deadline passed in May, advocates for an education funding campaign filed a suit against the secretary of state, arguing that social distancing restrictions that were put in place due to the coronavirus pandemic meant the state should give them more time to digitally petition. The judge agreed and ordered the state to allow them to do so for 48 days starting Thursday.
The marijuana reform campaign feels that the same relief should be extended to them as well, and an attorney representing the group sent a letter to the secretary of state this week, asking that the Elections Division also provide cannabis activists with the digital petitioning and deadline extension concessions that the federal judge granted to the education funding group.
In one of the latest developments, the state’s request to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to temporarily force the suspension of electronic signature gathering was denied on Thursday, though the appeal on the broader case is ongoing. That’s given the cannabis activists more hope as they pursue legal routes to have the lower court’s ruling apply to them.
BREAKING: State of Idaho's request to block our e-signature drive for K-12 funding DENIED by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. It's time to give Idaho voters a chance to do what those in power refuse to do: Save our schools from deep budget cuts & invest in our children. #idpol
— Luke Mayville (@lukemayville) July 9, 2020
Russ Belville, campaign spokesperson for the Idaho Cannabis Coalition, told Marijuana Moment that the group was “thrilled” to see the appeals court refuse to stay the electronic signature gathering decision.
“Our attorneys are working to convince the state to provide our Idaho Medical Marijuana Act petition the same electronic signature gathering relief, as we have suffered the same infringement of our petitioning rights,” he said. “It’s a shame it takes a pandemic to even consider allowing electronic signatures on petitions. Idaho should make every effort to make exercising our rights as easy as possible, especially for sick, disabled, elderly, infirm and rural folks without easy access to an in-person petitioner.”
In the new letter to Idaho Secretary of State Lawerence Denney, attorney Bradley Dixon said his client “has standing to pursue a remedy given the impact that the COVID-19 restrictions have had upon it.” The campaign “can show (1) they have suffered an injury in fact, which is both concrete and particularized, and actual or imminent; (2) their injury is fairly traceable; and (3) their injury will likely be redressed by a favorable outcome.”
“Moreover, just like Reclaim Idaho, as illustrated above, our client can show that it was diligent in collecting signatures and had adopted a thorough plan to achieve ballot success in advance of the unforeseeable coronavirus outbreak. Considering the merits of a possible case, our client’s First and Fourteenth Amendments rights have been harmed because the State of Idaho and its agents did not provide an alternative means to signature collection during the stay at home order, or during any of the phased reopening stages.”
The state’s stay-at-home order “made it impossible to retrieve all statutorily-required signatures because of both the reduction in time to collect such signatures, and the deadline date to obtain signatures falling on the same day as the end of the stay at home order,” the attorney said.
If the campaign is ultimately allowed to proceed with signature gathering, they will need 55,057 valid signatures to qualify for the November ballot. Activists said they have about 45,000 unverified signatures on hand at this point, and they’re confident that can fill the gap if they get the deadline extension and electronic petitioning option.
The group has indicated it is prepared to seek relief directly from the courts if the secretary of state does not comply with their request to his office.
Under the proposed ballot measure, patients with qualifying conditions could receive medical cannabis recommendations from physicians and then possess up to four ounces of marijuana and grow up to six plants.
Advocates say that passing medical cannabis in one of the remaining states without such policies on the books would be a significant victory for patients in its own right—but it could also have outsized federal implications. A House-passed bill to protect banks that service state-legal cannabis businesses from being penalized by federal regulators is currently pending action in a Senate committee chaired by a senator who represents the state.
Creating a medical marijuana program in Idaho, which is one of small handful of states that don’t yet even have limited CBD laws, could put additional pressure on Senate Banking Committee Chairman Mike Crapo (R-ID) to move the financial services legislation in Congress.
Read the letter to the secretary state on allowing electronic signature gathering for medical marijuana below: